Video game music composer gives lecture at the Library of Congress

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips giving a lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips' lecture was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

On April 6th I was honored to give a lecture at the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in Washington DC (pictured right).  As a video game composer, I’d been invited to speak by the Music Division of the Library of Congress.  I’d be delivering the concluding presentation during their Popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips is here shown outside the Thomas Jefferson Building (Library of Congress, Washington DC), where she gave the first-ever video game music composition lecture at the invitation of the music division of the Library of Congress.premiere event celebrating popular video game music.  My lecture would be the very first video game music composition lecture ever given at the Library of Congress.  I was both honored and humbled to accept the invitation and have my lecture included in the 2018-2019 season of concerts and symposia from the Library of Congress.

In my presentation, I included many topics that I’ve written about in previous articles.  My lecture topics included horizontal resequencing, vertical layering, and interactive MIDI-based composition. I explored the various roles that music has played in famous games from the earliest days of game design (like Frogger and Ballblazer).  I also discussed how music has been implemented in some of the awesome games from the modern era (like one of my own projects, Assassin’s Creed Liberation).

My lecture was supported by a full house in the Whittall Pavilion at the Library of Congress. The audience gave me both a warm welcome and lots of great questions following the conclusion of my lecture.  Afterwards, the discussion continued during a book signing event that was kindly hosted by the Library of Congress shop.  During the book signing event, I was pleased to sign copies of my book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. I also got to talk personally with quite a few audience members.  Such an engaging and insightful crowd!  It was a pleasure getting to know these lovely people.  I really enjoyed the lively conversation – I had the best time!!

The video of my full lecture will be posted on the Library of Congress web site within the coming months.  However, I thought I might offer a preview in the form of a partial transcript including some of the top questions from the Q&A session that followed my lecture.  So here are some of the questions that were posed – starting with a question about a topic of great importance to the Library of Congress – copyright protection for artists!

The Library of Congress logo, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).


Question I know copyright is a big thing, so I was wondering how do you approach that?  So that you can avoid having the copyright issues?  At least from your experience?

Phillips: Copyright is a very interesting and important aspect of our work.  A lot of games are structured specifically around the idea of using licensed music. I’m sure you can think of a lot of Electronic Arts sports games in which music is introduced for the first time.  You find a band that you really love by playing one of those sports games.  That’s been a really big avenue for young artists to make their start, and it’s been great for the music community at large.

No game developer wants to find out that they’ve used a piece of music and that they haven’t secured the rights appropriately.  Particularly if you’ve fallen in love with a track.  You’ve incorporated it into your game, and (oh God forbid) you’ve actually structured your gameplay around it.  Then you find out you can’t use it!

It’s great that the Library of Congress has served the artistic community for so long in making sure that artists are protected.

Popular video game music composer Winifred Phillips is pictured during her lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Presenting her lecture to a full-house at the Whittall Pavilion, Winifred Phillips gave the first video game music composition lecture at the Library of Congress.

Question What challenges do you face, or conventions do you follow, when you are mixing down a dynamic piece of music for a retail CD release? Or for a promotional material?  How do you make that stay interesting to the listener, if it’s not as dynamic as it once was?

Phillips When you’re composing music for a game, you’re essentially composing a lot of different bits and pieces.  You know that during gameplay they’re going to be triggered by the progress of the player.  So it’s essentially a flexible, fluid story.  I try to think about the most impactful course that the player might have taken through that level…  through that piece of music. Then I will construct in my music production software an ideal course, an ideal way to go through it.  I’ll mix it so that it becomes a memory of the experience of playing that game.  A lot of the people who buy these soundtracks are people who have played the games.  They want to own the music because they want to relive the experience.  That’s what I’m thinking about when I’m pulling all of the interactive elements together.  I want to create a sort of ideal listening experience.

Question How often do you use virtual libraries, in comparison to a real orchestra?  Do you use virtual libraries more for mockups, or do you use it more for scoring a game?

Phillips There have been projects where I’ve used it just in the mockup stage at the beginning. Then the project has gone on to record with a live orchestra.  So that’s always fun. But then there are other projects where the budget is just not going to accommodate that.  One of the things that’s important to me as an artist is the option to work with both large studios and also indie teams that don’t have the same kind of budgets. It allows me to do a wide range of projects that are exciting and creative.

To make an orchestral sample library sound satisfying and realistic requires a minute attention to details.  Also, a really good understanding of how sample libraries work.  How live musicians play.  Then, you can approximate the sound in a way that’s going to feel satisfying for listeners.  On the other hand, when you’re dealing with a live orchestra, you really want to be able to take advantage of the strengths of that medium, and appeal to the expressiveness that a live orchestra or live soloists can bring.

A photo showing Winifred Phillips (popular video game music composer) as she presents the first-ever video game music composition lecture to be given at the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC).

Question As someone who plays musical instruments but who has never composed – if I were to try to make an indie game or something and I wanted to make my own music – what kind of recommendations would you have?

Phillips I’ve seen development teams in which the main developer also creates the music.  There have been some really interesting games that have been created that way.  If you are a musician creating a game, you can sense how the music fits into the mechanic of the game – since you’re creating both.  So that’s something that I’ve seen done.  But I do think that if you haven’t composed before, it might make sense to try to start doing some of that first, before you try to bring those two elements together.  They’re Popular video game composer Winifred Phillips discussing her music from Assassin's Creed Liberation during her lecture at the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). This was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.very different disciplines.  You want to have a basic skill set.  You want to be comfortable with that, before you start taking something that’s hard in and of itself (music composition), and then adding into it something else that’s hard in and of itself (game design). You don’t want to get overwhelmed.

If you are familiar with any student teams, or teams that are involved in game jams, you could get involved in that.  A game jam is one of these events in which all of these game developers come together to create games on the fly really quick.  It’s actually a lot of fun, because it becomes a way to be very creative and solve problems right on the spot.  It’s also a fantastic opportunity to jump into a team right away as the composer.  You get an opportunity to just think about that part of the game, to create the music within the structure of a team.  I think you’d learn a lot about what goes into music composition for games.  Do that first – before you put the thousand ton weight on yourself by doing both things at the same time.

Question Given the gaming consoles and other platforms have grown so much in terms of their capacity, what limits do you feel are placed now (or still) on your budget?  And what’s your response then, in terms of strategies that you bring to increase your expressiveness?  What resources are available, while still remaining within the resources allowed?The Library of Congress organized a book signing event to take place immediately following a lecture presented by popular game music composer Winifred Phillips in the Library of Congress (Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips signed copies of her book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.

PhillipsThat definitely becomes an issue from project to project.  I can’t honestly think of a single project I’ve worked on when budget doesn’t become a factor, even when the budgets are very large. There’s always the opportunity for your ambitions to explode beyond the boundaries that any game budget can accommodate.  At that point you triage the situation.  You look at it and you say, ‘how can I maximize the potential of a smaller amount of music? How can it provide coverage for a game and not become too repetitive – too annoying?’  You don’t want your music to become a negative. You always want it to be something people love.

I’ve talked about vertical layering, the idea of music broken apart into its individual layers that can be used separately.  That makes one piece of music more flexible to cover a larger amount of time. It can morph and change and become more adaptive to what’s going on.

On the other hand, there’s also the quite valid consideration of when music should settle back into silence. That gives the player room to absorb the moment. You strategically place music in those positions where it’s going to have maximum impact, where it’s going to be meaningful. You can still have a satisfying musical experience in the game without needing an enormous budget to accommodate it.

So those are two approaches that can address the problem.  But it’s a continuing problem.  Every game development studio wrestles with it at one time or another. We’ve all got the hope and the yearning to do something really special with music.  A lot of the times we can!  Sometimes the restrictions can make us be creative in ways we couldn’t have predicted.  That is the way to grow as a development team or as an artist and composer. So these challenges can serve to make us grow and become better.


The Library of Congress logo, included in the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this partial transcript of the Q&A session from my lecture at the Library of Congress.  Be sure to revisit this space over the coming months, when I’ll be posting a link to the full video recording of my lecture on video game music composition.  The video of my lecture will be preserved as a webcast on the Library of Congress web site, where it will become a part of the Library’s permanent collection.  In that capacity, my lecture will be available in the Library of Congress collection for worldwide viewing and for the benefit of future generations.  It was a tremendous honor to give a lecture at the Library of Congress!  I’m grateful to the Library of Congress’ Music Division for inviting me to speak about my work as a video game composer!

 

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips giving a lecture at the Library of Congress (Whittall Pavilion, Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington DC). Winifred Phillips' lecture was the first video game music composition lecture given at the Library of Congress.Popular music from composer Winifred Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score will be performed live by a top 80-piece orchestra and choir as part of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which kicks off in 2019 with its Los Angeles premiere at the famous Dolby Theatre. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims.  Phillips’ other notable projects include the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution, and numerous virtual reality games, including Scraper: First Strike, Dragon Front, and many more.   She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality games. Phillips’ is a sought-after public speaker, and she has been invited to speak about her work as a game composer at the Library of Congress, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, and many more.  Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

 

 

Video Game Composers: How Music Enhances Virtual Presence (GDC 2019)

In this article about Virtual Presence in VR written for video game composers, Winifred Phillips (video game composer) is here pictured working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Delighted you’re here!  I’m very pleased to share that over the next two months I’ll be speaking at two fantastic events focusing on music in video games!  My two presentations will explore the unique structure and character of video game music, and how it helps to better envelop players in the worlds that game designers have created.  I thought that this article might be a good opportunity to delve into some of the ideas that form the basis of my two upcoming talks.  First, I’d like to share some details about the presentations I’ll be giving.

The Library of Congress logo, included in an article discussing popular game conferences, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).The Library of Congress has invited me to speak this April as a part of their “Augmented Realities” video game music festival. My presentation, “The Interface Between Music Composition and Game Design,” will take place at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. I’m very excited to participate in this event, which will be the first of its kind hosted by the “Concerts from the Library” series at the Library of Congress! The “Augmented Realities” video game music festival will also include panels on video game music history and preservation presented by distinguished curators and archivists at the Library of Congress, a special documentary screening that explores the ChipTunes movement, and a live “game creation lab.” My presentation will be the concluding lecture of the festival, and I’m honored to speak at such an illustrious event!  If you find yourself in the Washington DC area on April 6th 2019, you’re very welcome to come to my lecture at the Library of Congress!  Tickets are free (first come, first served), and they’re available now via EventBrite.

The GDC logo, accompanying the discussion of networking at such famous game conferences, from the article for video game composers by Winifred Phillips (game music composer).But before my lecture at the Library of Congress, I’ll be making a trip to San Francisco for the famous Game Developers Conference that takes place this month. For the past few years I’ve been excited and honored to be selected as a Game Developers Conference speaker in the Game Audio track, and I’m happy to share that I’ll be speaking again this month in San Francisco at GDC 2019! My talk this year is entitled “How Music Enhances Virtual Presence.

Continue reading

Video game music composer: Getting your big break

In this article for video game composers, popular game composer Winifred Phillips is depicted in this photo working in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

So happy you’ve joined us!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips (pictured above working on my career breakthrough project, God of War). Today I’ll be discussing a hot topic that we’ve previously explored, but that definitely deserves to be revisited periodically.  This is one of the most popular subjects that I’ve addressed in my previous articles here: How does a newcomer get hired as a game composer?

I’m asked this question frequently, and while I offered quite a lot of advice on this topic in my book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I’m keenly aware of how urgent the need is for updated guidance on this issue for aspiring video game composers.  Game music newcomers often feel adrift and alone in the game industry, and some good advice can be a welcome lifeline.  In my book, I described the career path that led me into the game industry and allowed me to land my first gigs, but I’m well aware that my experience was pretty unique.  With that in mind, I’ve collated some recent research and insights from some top game industry professionals in this article, in the hopes that some of these expert observations might prove helpful.  There are lots of original and provocative viewpoints presented here, so we should feel free to pick and choose the strategies and tips that will work best for us.

Also, later in the article you’ll find my presentation for the Society of Composers and Lyricists seminar, in which I answered the question about how I personally got my start in the games industry (for those who might be curious).  Finally, at the end of the article I have included a full list of links for further reading and reference.

Continue reading

Tips, Tools and Guidance: VR Assets for the Game Music Composer

 

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips hard at work on the Audioshield Fitness VR project in her video game music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact Follow

Welcome!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and my projects lately have included music composition for a lot of great virtual reality games.  It’s been fascinating work!  Last year, when my VR work started to really pick up, I wrote an article with lots of resources to help video game music composers become more comfortable in the world of VR audio development.  Since this discipline progresses rapidly, I thought it would be best to post an update article now that adds additional resources to address new developments in the field.

VR development is continuously innovative and cutting-edge, and I’ve been fortunately to experience this first-hand.  As an example: one of my more recent virtual reality game projects was music for Audioshield Fitness, developed by the creator of the famous Audiosurf music-rhythm game. I was asked to compose the new official Audioshield Theme for release with the Audioshield Fitness game, which takes the core game mechanics of Audioshield and pumps up the challenge with obstacles that make players dodge and duck to the music.  The result is an intense workout that was named as one of the top 5 VR Fitness Games of 2018 by PerfectBodyMate.com. To maximize the power of the Audioshield procedural system, my composition had to attune itself to the system’s powerful music analysis algorithm and deliver moments of both challenge and spectacle. I composed and mixed the music with specifically-targeted EQ frequency ranges where I placed rhythmic elements and punchy crescendoes.  The Audioshield music analysis system then reacted to this audio content and changed the pacing and content of gameplay to match these variables.  It was a fun challenge!  Here’s a video showing how that worked:

 

Composing for virtual reality is its own unique discipline, requiring a specialized set of skills and tools.  In this article, let’s collect some resources that explore the techniques, tools, and technologies associated with VR audio development.  Let’s also take a look at the professional community of VR developers that are there to help each other through the rough spots.  Ready?  Let’s go!

Continue reading

Resources for Video Game Music Composers: The Big List

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips creating music in her video game music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everybody!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  Every year, between working in my studio creating music for some awesome games, I like to take a little time to gather together some of the top online resources and guidance available for newbies in the field of video game music.  What follows in this article is an updated and expanded collection of links on a variety of topics pertinent to our profession.  We begin with the concert tours and events where we can get inspired by seeing game music performed live.  Then we’ll move on to a discussion of online communities that can help us out when we’re trying to solve a problem.  Next, we’ll see a collection of software tools that are commonplace in our field.  Finally, we’ll check out some conferences and academic organizations where we can absorb new ideas and skills.

Continue reading

VR for the Game Music Composer: Audio for VR Platforms

In this article written for video game composers, Winifred Phillips (video game composer) is here pictured working in her music production studio on the music for the Scraper: First Strike game, developed for popular VR gaming platforms (PSVR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips.  Lately, I’ve been very busy in my production studio composing music for a lot of awesome virtual reality games, including the upcoming Scraper: First Strike first person VR shooter (pictured above) that’s coming out next Wednesday (November 21st) for the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Windows Mixed Reality Devices, and will be released on December 18th for the Playstation VR.  My work on this project has definitely stoked my interest in everything VR!  Since the game will be released very soon, here’s a trailer video released by the developers Labrodex Studios, featuring some of the music I composed for the game:

Continue reading

Video Game Music Composers: New VR Headphone Tech (2018)

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

In this article for and about the craft of video game composers, Winifred Phillips is pictured in this photo from her lecture on Virtual Reality given at the popular Game Developers Conference in 2018.Hey, everyone!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and my work has included the musical scores for top games on all sorts of popular gaming platforms, from handhelds and mobile, all the way up to the latest consoles and PCs.  Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of video game music composition for virtual reality.  I had the pleasure of presenting a lecture on Music in Virtual Reality (pictured left) at the most recent Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

My experience as a composer for VR includes many VR games, including the Scraper: First Strike shooter (set to be released for the PSVR, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive in December 2018), and the recently released VR experience The Haunted Graveyard, which is now available on Steam and in VR Arcades around the world.  Since we’re in the Halloween season, and this VR experience is designed specifically for your Halloween pleasure, here’s a trailer that features my music from The Haunted Graveyard:

By virtue of all the experiences I’ve had recently creating music for VR, I’ve become keenly aware of the importance of sound fidelity in VR.  If the experience doesn’t sound real, it loses the chance to actually feel like a fully-convincing, thoroughly awesome virtual reality experience.  With that in mind, I’ve been writing periodic articles about new technologies in connection with headphones for VR.

Continue reading